Shortlisting the best candidates

After you have completed a round of interviews, you'll have to make the tough decision of eliminating applicants in order to produce a final shortlist. All internal stakeholders will need to ensure that shortlisting candidates is consistent, fair, and complies with legal requirements. Doing this shortly after the first interview round will help avoid a slow and prolonged hiring process.

Here are some simple steps you can take to perfect your process of shortlisting candidates before making your final selection.

Competencies and cultural fit

Your ultimate goal of shortlisting candidates is to reduce your long list of interviewees to four or five candidates at the most. This final list should only include candidates you genuinely believe could do the job and who would fit in best with your organisation's culture. Some key points to consider when deciding who to include in your shortlist include:

  • Do they have the “must-have” skills/qualifications/experience?
  • Do they seem motivated to join the company?
  • Does the candidate seem a good fit with the company culture?
  • Are you in agreement with the other internal stakeholders?

Red flags/deal breakers

Interviews are stressful, and it's perfectly ok to give the candidate the benefit of the doubt if they mispronounce a word or seem a little nervous. But there are other behaviours and actions that can be signs of an unprofessional attitude, such as:

  • Arriving late to the interview
  • Dressing casual or being poorly presented
  • Not being truthful about their experience or qualifications

In most cases, any of these should be excluded from your candidate shortlist.


Each interview is an opportunity to assess the candidate against the selection criteria in greater detail than is possible from a resume alone. In particular, note how well the candidate answered the open-ended and behavioural interview questions, because this will tell you whether they can actually “walk the walk”.

Cultural fit

Which candidates connected best with the interview panel? Good eye contact, a confident manner, and the candidate displaying genuine interest in what you do are all things that can help indicate a good cultural fit (or not). Also take into account how the candidate answered the questions. Their responses and the way they answered the question could also be considered to be good indication of they would fit in well.

Aptitude testing

Decide if aptitude testing is necessary. Aptitude tests (also known as psychometric tests) have both their pros and cons. At best, they can give you a relatively accurate and insightful picture of a candidate’s suitability. If you’re looking for a quality salesperson, for example, then an extrovert with high verbal reasoning skills is a better choice than an abstract-thinking introvert. Aptitude tests can be a good way to weed out people from your shortlist who can ace an interview, but can't back it up with performance. However, these test are not always necessary and dependent on the job.

On the other hand, some test results could be “faked” by a savvy candidate who has studied such tests or already undertaken similar testing. They can also contain biases that disadvantage people from different cultural backgrounds, language barriers or psychological dispositions. If you plan to include aptitude testing in the recruitment process, it’s best not to rely too much on one test or result.

Finalise shortlisting candidates

Checking references is one of the best insurance policies against a bad hire. Make it your priority to call at least two of each candidate’s referees as soon as possible after interviews are completed. When it comes to references, there are no shortcuts – one-to-one verbal contact is always best, rather than more passive approaches like email or written references.

Also, the same discrimination laws apply to reference checks as to interviewing, so avoid asking the referee about the candidate's marital status, age, religion, disabilities or national origin.

Keep them updated

Once you have your final candidate shortlist, don’t risk your prime applicants becoming disheartened if they don’t hear from you. Keep them updated on the progress of their application using channels such as the phone, email, SMS or social media.

These steps can help you evaluate your interviewed candidates fairly and objectively, speed up the hiring process and give you greater confidence when it's time to make a hiring decision.

Want more hiring tips and recruitment advice? Visit our recruitment process hub.